Once upon a time there lived a King who had a beautiful and headstrong daughter. Although many men came to court her, she steadfastly refused each one and, somehow, they always left in relative understanding and happiness. Her father would question them, but they would always give some cryptic answer about not being the right type of person for his daughter. They would wish her the best and then continue on their way, leaving the King annoyed and frustrated beyond compare.
Though the King was constantly reassured, he eventually grew tired of the lack of men in his daughter’s life and contacted a witch who was rumored to be as heartless as her blood was red. In exchange for copious amounts of gold he arranged for the witch to kidnap the princess and keep her locked away in a tower until a kind, handsome, and noble prince could come and rescue her. They would then marry and then the King could finally rest peacefully, knowing the kingdom was in good hands.
For reasons of her own, the witch agreed to this plan. In the heat of the day, when the princess was surrounded by servants and suitors that would never be, she blew a special sleeping powder into the lass’s ear and spirited her away to a lonely tower some miles away.
When the princess awoke, she was lying on a bale of hay and surrounded by unfamiliar stone. The witch stared at her with eyes that threatened to impale her soul on a painfully dull sword. The girl scooted backwards until her back was pressed against the cold wall.”Who are you? Where have you taken me?” asked the princess in what she hoped was a commanding tone.
The witch chuckled and sat down in a chair across the tiny room. It was the least comfortable looking chair the princess had ever seen and she hoped she would never have to sit in it herself. “I am the witch Balimor and this is my tower. Tell me, princess, what is your name?”
“You should know, Valima, that I am not in the business of lying. There is little point when the truth is much more efficient at damning and dooming whole kingdoms and creating chaos where there once was none. Ask me the question that plagues your mind and I shall answer more honestly than you truly wish.”
Valima hesitated for only a second before the overwhelming desire to know crashed down upon her like a badly made straw house in an earthquake. “Why have you kidnapped me?” she asked.
“Your father hired me kidnap you until a prince with lust in his heart and a misplaced sense of justice and perhaps a dollop of great leadership coursing through his veins deigns to come and rescue you from this place. He will, of course, then wed you and—”
“And then my father will have trapped me in a marriage I never wanted. Ugh, I don’t even like men!”
The witch grinned. “And now that you have the truth, I shall leave you. Do with this what you will, Valima.”
Balimor vanished in a puff of white smoke which left behind the vague scent of lavender and citrus. For the first time in her life, the princess was completely alone and she found that she relished it more than she thought she would. A week later, Princess Valima escaped the tower with naught but a coil of rope at her side. She’d found it beneath some loose stones in the floor and had never been so grateful as to see it for the tower was a very dull prison indeed. When her feet touched the ground, she resolved to return home in the hopes that perhaps the witch really was lying and her father had nothing to do it after all.
Once upon a time there lived a King and Queen with a beautiful daughter who was as warm as the tropical ocean air at noon. She was well loved by parents and kingdom alike. The few people who disliked her did so with extreme reservations and could never motivate themselves to do so for long. There was only one who genuinely hated her: a sorcerer who could not stand the sight of beauty and kindness. His own heart had grown black and calloused long ago when his face burned in an accident, caused by the very knights she would one day command. He hated that the kingdom loved her at all.
He attended the festive dance the princess held yearly in honor of the new year and insisted on dancing with her. She politely declined for she had no wish to dance with anyone but the young man who was seeing her in secret. In a fit of fiery rage akin to a thousand demonic bulls, he slapped her across the cheek with a powerful curse. She vanished and reappeared in a dungeon that smelt of sulfuric acid and skunk. It was guarded by a trio of slobbering trolls that longed for the taste of human flesh.
Back at the dance, the sorcerer explained the curse with malicious glee, confident that none would be able to stop him. “Your beloved princess is being kept in the dungeon of a castle not three miles away from this one,” sneered the malevolent man. “It is surrounded by the very sharpest of thorns. Should you get though them and find your way to the dungeons, you must then face three trolls who would like nothing more than to feast upon your flesh and turn your bones to mash. Should you manage to defeat those, you will find your precious princess trapped in a dungeon that will only open when she experiences True Love’s Kiss. Now, go and dance for me my pathetic kingdom!”
The sorcerer vanished, leaving behind only the scent of brimstone and despair in his wake. He would never be seen again though the knights would hunt high and low for him. The king and queen immediately called forth all the people who loved their daughter in a desperate attempt to find one willing to attempt a rescue at all.
When Princess Valima returned home with naught but a coil of rope at her side there was no royal fanfare upon her arrival. The very air felt stale as if it wanted her gone before she even arrived. A single knight approached her to tell her where her father was but the others merely pointedly ignored her. The servants whispered in the shadows of things that had not yet come to pass.
Eventually, she reached the throne room and cast open the doors. Her father sat regally on the throne, alone in the room, looking dangerously impassive. “So, you have returned. Alone.”
“Yes, I saved myself from the witch.”
The king stood, his face slowly losing its impassivity and gaining something akin to powerful rage instead. “You foolish girl, You insist on squelching my dreams with every breath you take. This kingdom needs an heir and you are not fit to rule it alone. Why couldn’t you have married a noble and handsome prince already? Your headstrong ways will ruin my kingdom and everyone in it!” the king shouted at her.
“So the witch was right…” the princess muttered softly to herself. “And why can’t you care about something more than the fate of this kingdom? What if I don’t want to marry a prince? Isn’t what I want even remotely relevant to you?” Valima demanded to know.
“You have become worthless to me child and your illicit desires will doom me. I hereby disown you and cast you out of these halls. Now leave me before I set the knights on your worthless hide.”
Valima ran from the throne room and to the chambers she once called her own. When she left the castle, she left it in much simpler clothes, the loyal coil of rope, a bag of gold she kept stashed in her room, and a sword she had stolen from the armory. She never returned to the place she once called home.
The first person to attempt to rescue the princess was the man who was seeing her in secret. His younger brother came along for moral support. Together, they burned down the thorns and passed through them to the demonic castle itself. They did not notice the thorns growing again just behind him.
The younger brother hid when they found the three terrible trolls. But the elder brother was adept with a sword and much smarter than they. He danced around them and cut off their heads with scarcely an injury to himself. The younger brother frowned. “That seemed too easy…” he muttered.
“You worry too much Timmy. Princess Celeste, where are you?” called the elder brother.
“I’m here! Eric, is that you?” the princess called back.
The three of them reached the bars of the dungeon at the same time. The princess smiled in her soft way that made the world swoon at her feet. “I knew you’d come for me,” she said happily.
“As if I would let you rot here for all eternity,” proclaimed Eric. “The sorcerer said this spell is broken with the kiss of true love…and I do love you Celeste.”
“And I you.”
Eric stepped forward and kissed her chastely on the lips. At first, nothing happened. Then, bolts of lightning leapt from Princess Celeste to Eric, shocking him with every electric volt of a passing thunderstorm. His body began to shake and writhe, sending waves of pain crashing against his every nerve until his lungs gave out entirely and he crashed to the wet ground with a sickening thump.
As if in response, the trolls who had been lying dead on the floor returned to life. They saw fresh meat lying on the wet floor and tore the corpse into three pieces, consuming each one with gratuitous smacks loud enough to start a landslide in the mountains. Princess Celeste screamed, her cry ricocheting off the walls and scarring young Timmy for the rest of his days. He started towards her, wanting to kiss her too, wanting to try to get her away from here now, wanting to succeed on her behalf where his brother had failed.
The princess saw him crawling towards her, out of sight of the trolls. “Please, stop!” she cried out. “Get away from here, while you still can. I won’t kill you too!”
So young Timmy fled, away from the trolls, through the thorn bushes that were already growing back, and all the way back to the castle where he told the king and queen what he had seen. They gasped in horror and sent out a message to everyone they could find in a desperate plea to find their daughter’s true love before she saw everyone who loved her die.
A year passed. During that time Valima shed any resemblance to the princess she had once had in favor of one learned in the ways of the world. She learnt swordplay and how to see magic and the philosophy of everything in combination with nothing and all the things she had wanted to learn but were deemed unfit for a princess.
She rescued three people over the course of that year. One was a prince transformed into a fish who could only turn back if he found the brooch his sister had foolishly tossed away. She found it for him and though the prince was eternally grateful, they agreed that it would be best to go their separate ways. The second was a lowly peasant girl who just wanted to see something beyond the drudgery of home. To her, Valima gave half of her precious gold and the girl proclaimed that if they should ever meet again she would repay her.
The third happened entirely by accident. She was simply walking down a road when she spotted a hoard of green goblins glowering at a gibbering, cowering boy. Immediately, she leapt into action. She swung her sword into the grotesque group, scattering them. Three of them she impaled on her blade as a warning. That was all it took for them to turn and flee into their respective caves. Once the goblins were gone, the boy got back to his feet. They stared at each other for a moment, each trying to see into the other’s soul. “You’re her, aren’t you? The princess turned rogue hero? Disowned and banished by her father forever more?”
“Yes, I’m Valima. Who are you?”
“And what, pray tell, were you doing with a bunch of goblins? They usually can’t be trusted, as you were finding out.”
The young boy swallowed. “I was hoping they had a goblin seer among them…you know, one of those who can see all there is to see? There’s someone I need to find.”
“And who would that be?”
“Princess Celeste’s true love, of course. I have to find them and get her out of there.”
Valima had heard of the plight of Princess Celeste. There were few in the world who had not, though not many dared to try to rescue her anymore. Truth be told, Valima herself would love to rescue the maiden; her beauty was well known throughout the realms and only her kindness overshadowed it. The former princess considered the youth before her. “And why have you taken it upon your shoulders to find this person for her?”
The young boy explains to her about how his own brother had been the first to fall before her deadly lips and how the princess had refused to let him try too, for his own good. He tells how her parents, King Medimere and Queen Imogene, don’t even send out envoys for help anymore because they’ve given up hope. He tells her that the sorcerer disappeared entirely.
“The worst of it is that Princess Celeste is losing hope too. She’s been down there for a whole year doing nothing but kissing strange men who might be the one. And they never are. They always die painfully and get eaten before her very eyes and there is only so much of that one can take. I go down there sometimes…I hide from the trolls and we talk. I’ve learned a lot from her…she’s been teaching me about philosophy and how things look on the sea of the infinite, as she calls it. I think she’s convinced herself that she’s not important but she is the most important thing to me. She became my sister, you know? So I have to save her.”
Valima smiled down at the boy. Ever since meeting Balimor, she found that she genuinely appreciated earnest and truthful people. This young boy was no exception. “Then I’ll help you.”
“If you take me to the place where she is being held, I can look at the spell. I have learned to see the weaving of such things and if I look at it, then I can pinpoint the location Celeste’s true love by seeing where that thread leads. Will you let me help?”
Timmy nodded profusely. “I’ll lead the way.”
The sky surrounding the dark castle was pregnant with the idea of storming. The clouds screamed through the night and cracked the ground in their tantrums, but not even a spoonful of rain bothered to touch the ground. A cascade of black thorniness surrounded the castle but they were close enough to where Valima would be able to see the spell properly.
The process for seeing spells was a strange one that she had taken many months to master. It was akin to seeing everything that wasn’t there and processing it through the eyes. If one concentrated in just the right way, they too would be able to see the magic at work.
This spell was the most complex she had ever seen. It resembled, as is the case with all spells, an elaborate spider web littered with morning dew. This one, however, was blacker than troll bile in the black of night, save for the bits of dew that resembled white diamonds in a blizzard. Threads led to other threads and it was difficult to see where each piece led with so many other bits wrapped around each one. This was not a spell that could simply be cut with another, there were too many fail safes for that. However, there was one thread that rather obviously connected to the princess because this one was lighter in color than the others, as if the princess’s purity itself was attempting to free her. The other end of the thread-and this she was having trouble processing-was connected directly to her own chest. “Me? But that isn’t possible…” she muttered.
No sooner had she realized this than did her concentration break like icicles hitting the hard frozen ground, shattering in a thousand directions. It wasn’t possible, it couldn’t be possible. She didn’t even know the princess! “But don’t you?” whispered Timmy.
She hadn’t noticed that she had actually spoken aloud. But she didn’t know the princess, they had never met. Her father wouldn’t have bothered introducing them, since she wasn’t considered a marriage prospect for a princess, not technically. “But you’ve heard everything about her, since she was cursed, haven’t you? And I could see your face when I told you she was teaching me about philosophy…you looked intrigued, like you hadn’t realized other girls were interested in that sort of thing.” Timmy pressed.
“Tell me more about her.” Valima commanded.
Timmy smiled slightly, somehow looking happier than he had been even when she agreed to help in the first place. Within minutes, Valima found herself knowing all kinds of things about Celeste, things that she had never even considered. When Celeste was ten, she started giving roses to the knights that had been out fighting because she wanted them to feel welcome when they came home. Celeste had loved Eric because of the way he was kind to everyone and always honest. Celeste was good at drawing the moon in all its phases but terrible at everything else. Celeste didn’t care if you were a boy or a girl so long as you were genuinely you. Celeste, Celeste, Celeste….
Celeste sounded like the ideal woman. “She can draw the moon and I can draw the sun…I suppose I would be doing everyone a disservice if I didn’t rescue her then,” said Valima.
Timmy cheered. “Thank you…you have no idea how much this means to me.”
Together, they burnt down the thorns which had grown back countless times previously. They dashed through the burnt field and entered the castle with little mishap along the way. The inside of the castle was dank, dark, and dreary with a side order of dismal. The walls were bare, save for a few vague red tinges that could either have been discolored moss or splatters of blood. Valima hoped it was moss.
The pair descended downwards until they reached the dungeon and the terrible trio of trolls that guarded it. Before the trolls could have any say in the matter, Valima leapt into action, cutting off their heads with relative ease and turning gracefully on her heel. Timmy grinned. “I never get tired of seeing people do that. They deserve it.” he informed her.
It was then that Valima turned her attention to the dungeon itself and caught her first glimpse of Princess Celeste, curled up around herself, as if she was trying to hide from the world. It was clear, even through the stench and her dirtied skin, that she was absolutely beautiful. But her aura radiated sadness and the feeling clenched at Valima’s stomach and refused to let go. Timmy spoke up first. “Celeste?”
Princess Celeste unraveled herself and stood up, as if she didn’t want anyone to see her that way. “Timmy?” Her eyes traveled from the boy to the outcast princess and she made a sound that was somewhere between a gasp and sigh. “Please don’t tell me that you’ve brought someone else…I won’t let anyone else die…”
“But, she’s the one Celeste. This is Valima…I told you stories about her, remember? She saves people…and she can save you, too.”
Princess Celeste grasped the bars of the dungeon and stared at the woman before her. She smiled slightly and the effect was absolutely dazzling. Valima wondered what she must look like in proper sunlight. “Valima? Timmy has indeed told me of you. I’m not ashamed to admit that his stories about you have kept my spirits up even as they dwindle away. You’re more beautiful than I imagined and…but why are you here?”
Valima found that she could not keep her hands still. She rubbed her fingers together and looked for the words to describe everything she’d been feeling. “I’m here…I’m here because I’ve heard stories about you, too…I’m here because you like philosophy and so do I. I’m here because you can draw the moon and I can draw the sun. I’m here because if you’re really the person I’ve been hearing about then you have more courage than I could ever hope to have. I’m here because I love you and I’ve never even met you before now. I think we can break your spell…if you’re willing to try.”
Princess Celeste exhaled and neither of them had quite realized that she had been holding her breath at all. Suddenly, the world was the two of them stepping towards each other and not even the stench of the place or the bodies of the trolls seemed to matter. “I think…I think you’re the words playing the tune I’ve been longing to hear…I think I fell in love with the stories Timmy told me and I think…I think I’m in love with you, too…but what if we’re wrong?”
“Then I’ll die…but I think the risk is worth it, if you do.”
Princess Celeste nodded and their lips met through the bars before either of them were prepared. The kiss was chaste, just lips against lips but this time it was the right lips against lips and everything felt different and wonderful. A shiver ran down Valima’s spine and suddenly the bars, the dungeon, and even the castle itself vanished around them until it was just the two of them, standing in a field and kissing like they had not a care in the world.
Eventually, they broke apart, but their hands were on each other’s shoulders and their world was still just the two of them. “I can hardly believe it…I was beginning to think…”
“It’s alright…you’re safe now…it’s over.”
“I think it’s just begun.”
Somewhere in the background, Timmy cheered for joy. The rest of the world came into focus when he ran up and hugged them both with all of his strength. The three of them returned to the castle where Princess Celeste was met with tearful hugs and relieved sighs. As the princesses told their stories, King Medimere looked upon them with a happy smile upon his face. No sooner had they finished their story did the king stand and proclaim that the girls should be wed as soon as possible so as to preserve their happiness.
A month later, Princess Celeste and Valima married and began to jointly rule the kingdom as queen and queen, leading it to a prosperity the likes of which it had never seen.
They lived happily ever after.